Back on the train, I proffered my return ticket to the guard and asked him if I could break my journey at Acklington, continuing later on the evening train.
“Yes, of course,” he replied. His body language added, but why would you want to?
I was, again, the only passenger. I got a very real feel for this train’s place in the railway pecking order when, shortly after leaving Alnmouth, we were shunted into a loop for ten minutes to allow an East Coast express to overtake. It roared past, the turbulence from the gleaming silver coaches rocking my diminuitive train from side to side. Eventually, we resumed our southbound trundle and were soon slowing for the stop at Acklington.
I had a feeling that, with the niceness of Chathill, I might have peaked too soon, and I was right. Acklington has a similar imposing station building, but this one is now fenced off from the platforms. The waiting room is clearly of the same design as Chathill’s, but here there was no charming railwayana on display, just a lot of accumulated dirt.
I stumbled, bleary-eyed, into the Tyneside dawn. The streets of Newcastle were quiet; Geordieland was, by and large, still soundly asleep. The pavements were wet from overnight drizzle, and clouds hung ominously in the sky, threatening further rain. Luckily, I didn’t have far to go. I had deliberately booked into The Royal Station Hotel which, as the name suggests, is right next door to the station.
I had set no fewer than four alarms on my phone: the first at 5am, then at five-minute intervals thereafter. This may seem a bit over the top, but I needed to ensure I was up and at Newcastle Central station by 5.55am at the very latest, in order to catch a rare train to Chathill.
When I walked into the station at quarter to six, I found few passengers, but there was a Super Sprinter ticking over in platform 1.
Wondering where Part 1 is? It’s over on my personal blog.
It was Wednesday afternoon, and Ian and I were on the train to Corrour. This is one of those stations. When trainspotters gather, they speak of Corrour in hushed tones. In lists of superlatives, Corrour features heavily: the highest, the most remote, and so on…
Corrour was opened with the line in 1894, giving access to the Corrour Estate. The landed gentry would arrive for fun-packed holidays of deer stalking and grouse shooting – to this day, the Caledonian Sleeper makes special provision for people travelling with firearms.
More recently, it has become a popular station with walkers, who start and end their long rambles in the countryside here. In the 1990s it became famous for another reason. In Danny Boyle’s seminal film Trainspotting, the station was the starting point for the junkie protagonists’ day out in the country.
Disclaimer: I am not a heroin addict, and I’m fairly sure Ian isn’t either. I have also never seen Trainspotting, although visiting the station has persuaded me to finally watch it. The DVD hasn’t arrived from Amazon yet, but I have a feeling I will be impatiently sitting through grimy misery, waiting for the 60 seconds of railway footage. Sorry, Danny Boyle – good job on the Olympics thing, though.
If you haven’t already, you may want to read my account of the Caledonian Sleeper over on my main blog, which marks the start of my Scottish trip.
Scotland, I think I’m in love with you. It was Tuesday morning, and I was enjoying the first of three days exploring the Highlands in the company of my friend Ian. We had arrived in Fort William a few hours earlier on the Caledonian Sleeper. After the overnight journey from London, any other journey seems rather ordinary, but as the ScotRail Super Sprinter chugged its way south – back the way we had come earlier that morning – I really couldn’t have been happier.
The railways came late to this part of Britain. It wasn’t until 1894 that fearless navvies completed a route through some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the country. Despite the best efforts of Beeching, over a century later there is still a substantial network of routes criss-crossing the Highlands. The West Highland Line, linking Glasgow, Fort William and Mallaig, regularly features on lists of the greatest train journeys in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. The scenery is truly spectacular. The line twists and turns, following the contours of the landscape as well as it can. In places the train hugs the side of cliff faces on narrow ledges, in other parts it traces a curve round the shores of lochs. Sometimes, where the engineers could find no other alternative, you find yourself flying across valleys on majestic viaducts.
Every station on this route deserves to be visited for this blog, and one day I will come back and do just that. For now though, I had to make do with Rannoch, an isolated station located in the heart of the moor from which it takes its name.
A few times a day, the peace and tranquility of the Reedham Marshes is disturbed by the roar of diesel engines, as a Greater Anglia train chugs across the flat Norfolk countryside towards Great Yarmouth. The train is traversing an area largely devoid of human population, save for a few farms. Most of the time, the train will hurry across the landscape and be gone in an instant.
Occasionally, however, the driver will shut off power here, and the train will begin to slow down. The brakes will be applied and the train will squeal to a halt next to a tiny wooden platform. A single door will pop open and someone will emerge. Then the train’s engine will rev up and it will continue on its way, leaving its former passenger seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Welcome to Berney Arms railway station, serving a local population of zero. Its main users are birdwatchers, ramblers, cyclists and – of course – the occasional mad trainspotter just visiting for the hell of it.
The penultimate station on my Cornish trip was the penultimate station on the St Ives Bay Line, namely Carbis Bay, a pleasant little station tucked away on a cliff side.
Some trains skip Carbis Bay, so I had to be careful to catch the right train from St Ives. My precise timetabling was not a problem, as the trains were punctual all day. In fact, reliability was generally excellent throughout my stay. The only severe delay had been when leaving Liskeard towards Truro on my second day, and even this had been caused by circumstances outside the railway’s control. It’s hard to believe that this is the same First Great Western which regularly attracts the ire of Slough commuters.
Lelant Saltings is the newest station on the line. It opened in 1978 and from day one was intended as a park and ride facility — Cornwall County Council paid for the station, car park and subsidised train fares.
As a result, the car park is disproportionately large, which made its emptiness on the morning of my visit all the more obvious. Just one lonely car sat in the pay & display. I’m sure it’s a different story during the summer, but on this rainy March morning it felt rather deserted.